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Future Apple Watches may be able to tell if you’re indoors or outdoors

Future Apple Watches may be able to tell if you’re indoors or outdoors. Apple has filed for a patent (number 20190368884) dubbed “indoor/outdoor detection using a wearable computer.”

In the patent filing the tech giant notes that wearable computers such as smartwatches are growing in popularity with health and fitness enthusiasts. The typical smartwatch can run fitness applications that perform various functions, such as allowing users to set fitness goals, track caloric intake, gather workout ideas, and share progress on social media. 

The typical smartwatch includes a variety of sensors, such as inertial sensors (e.g., accelerometers, gyroscopes), a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receiver for localization, a wireless transceiver for localization and wireless communication with wireless networks and other devices, a barometric pressure sensor for altitude determination and a heart rate sensor for measuring heart rate. 

Some fitness applications can use these sensors to detect when the user has engaged in a fitness activity. For example, a digital pedometer in the smartwatch can be used to count the user’s steps and stride length based on acceleration data from an accelerometer. The step count or step frequency can be used with GNSS position and speed data to determine if the user is walking, running or riding a bicycle. 

However, Apple says the problem with many fitness apps is the inability of the application to determine if a particular fitness activity is indoors or outdoors. For example, if sensors on the smartwatch detect that the user is running, the fitness application doesn’t know if the user is running outdoors on a track or running indoors on a treadmill. 

Apple says this ambiguity can lead to erroneous output like displaying a map on the smartwatch when the user is running indoors on a treadmill. Also, if the user is indoors then it is desirable to turn off power consuming component (e.g., the GNSS receiver) to save power. 

Depending on whether the user is indoors or outdoors, different sensors may be used to measure the user’s exertion, such as sensing heart rate to estimate calories burned while indoors. Apple wants its Apple Watch to be even “smarter” about determining location.

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Dennis Sellers is the news editor of Apple World Today. He’s been an “Apple journalist” since 1995 (starting with the first big Apple news site, MacCentral). He loves to read, run, play sports, and watch movies.